For a quarter century, Sen. Joe Biden has opposed the strengthening of America’s national security at every turn. Across the board he has opposed the modernization of our strategic nuclear forces. He was for the nuclear freeze, even when U.S. nuclear forces were in serious disrepair. He opposed the Trident submarine and its C-4 and D-5 missiles; the Peacekeeper land-based missile critical to the winning of the Cold War; the deployment of the Pershing and GLCMs intermediate range ballistic missiles necessary to counterbalance the Soviets deployed SS-20s; and the B-2 bomber, a critical deployment of new stealth technology.
The Delaware senator also repeatedly led the fight to strip military assistance from our aid to El Salvador in the fight against the terrorist Marxist FMLN, while at the same time supporting major U.S. assistance to the terror-sponsoring Communist government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Biden also opposed helping the Democratic forces in Angola, who turned out to be a critical lever in securing the eventual withdrawal of Cuban forces from the region.
On missile defense, Sen. Biden’s record is as bad as it can get. Whenever a proposal came forward to support funding for the protection of the American people from Soviet, Chinese, North Korean or Iranian rockets by deploying a missile defense, he opposed it. He complained during a debate in June 2000 that the proposed acquisition of a missile defense was predicated on the idea that North Korea was a threat when it could very well be “fundamentally changed” in the near future. Talk about wishful thinking!
He further charged that missile defense was predicated on an “unrelieved pessimism” about possible future approaches to the world rather than a faith the world could be “transformed”. Building missile defenses, he claimed, would be “acting upon our worst fears” and will “only make those fears come true.” As for the threat from Pyongyang, Biden was confident that Russia had “offered to wean North Korea off the long-range ballistic missile kick it’s on” and that China “has given North Korea good counsel” on its nuclear weapons program.
On the Iranian missile and nuclear threat, the senator’s vision has been equally cloudy. During the 1990s and the Clinton administration, there was considerable skepticism of the administration’s promises that the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission would curtail the transfer of both missile and weapons technology from Russia to Iran. Skeptics such as Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Duncan Hunter warned that Russia was playing a two-faced game of pretending to be concerned with technology transfers while at the same time making millions doing exactly that. From his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden noted of these gathering dangers “other clerics, with overwhelming popular support are moving Iran toward a more rational view of the world”.
Building missile defenses even in the face of these threats would, he said, “sacrifice the START process and perhaps the INF treaty”, although in fact ending U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty was coupled with dramatic further reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals through the Treaty of Moscow in 2001-2. He acknowledges missile defense is seen as a “hedge against the unstable leader who might not be deterred,” or “maintaining our freedom from blackmail,” but he dismisses such a defense in the final analysis.
In a real life scenario, Sen. Biden says let’s assume North Korea invades South Korea. North Korea threatens the U.S. with long range missile strikes if the U.S. comes to the assistance of Seoul, putting Los Angeles and other American cities at risk. He would say to the American President that it makes no difference whether we would “lose Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Detroit” without missile defense or just “Los Angeles” with missile defense because a land based missile defense (as was being proposed in the summer of 2000) is not perfect.
What is missing from the senator’s admittedly “nuanced” approach is that a layered defense, as is now being deployed by the United States, might not be perfect in each instance, but combined would have a very significant capability against North Korean rockets — enough to give serious pause to the leaders in Pyongyang whether the initiation of hostilities with the Republic of Korea was a risk worth taking.
During the 2000 debate over whether the Clinton administration should go forward with missile defense deployments, Biden did admit that a boost phase defense against North Korean rockets would deal with one of his concerns — counter measures — and thus be a significant boost in US and allied missile defense capability. But he cautioned that “we must achieve greater comity among the world’s nuclear powers before we’ll be in a position to move safely to strategic missile defense”. In short, when the threat is less, we can act to meet that threat. Seems the senator has it backwards.
In the real world, threats can arise suddenly, just as intentions can change overnight. We saw this with Iran in 1979 and Venezuela in this decade. The idea that defending ourselves and our allies is somehow responsible for the rise of threats themselves is to turn reason on its head.
A strong defense, a combination of deterrence, the multi-nation Proliferation Security Initiative, port and maritime security, arms control, divestment, nuclear forensics or missile defense — all are required to do the job of “providing for the common defense”. To continue to build these elements of a required national security agenda is the job of the next president and his defense team. This task is either above Sen. Biden’s pay grade, or one he does not believe is worth doing.